When David Roemer earned his graduate degree from the University of Montana, he never dreamed he would later return to the state as the superintendent of Glacier National Park.
Two weeks into the new position, Roemer says he is still wrapping his head around the scope of his new job.
“It’s a lot to take in, not just the size of the park but also the number of people here I need to meet. It’s all on a scale beyond which I have dealt with before,” he said. “Redwood National and State Park is not small, but it is nothing like Glacier.”
Born and raised in Long Island, New York, Roemer’s appreciation for the outdoors truly began while at Antioch College in Ohio. During his time there, he spent six months working at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico with the Student Conservation Association.
“Looking back at it, I realized I had missed opportunities when I was younger to engage in outdoor and environmental things. There were programs available that I didn’t take advantage of, so maybe I was a bit of a late bloomer in that aspect,” Roemer said. “It was a bit serendipitous that I found my way to the National Park Service, but I wound up in the right place.”
When it came time to choose a graduate degree program, Roemer narrowed down his choices to the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the University of Montana.
“I wanted to be in a place where wilderness and the environment still had some authenticity, because those are the landscapes that inspire and nourish me,” he said. “I wanted to be somewhere where I felt there was an opportunity to do some good work.”
After earning a master’s degree in environmental studies from the University of Montana in 1997, Roemer spent three years as the chief of resource management and science at Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas. He was a biologist at Bryce Canyon before moving to Redwoods as the park’s chief of resource management and science in 2011.
In 2003, Roemer got his first look at Glacier National Park, though it was a brief one, as he helped map the severity of that summer’s wildfires as a GIS specialist with a Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team.
“I worked in a basement for a few weeks mapping the severity of the burns. I only got to leave the basement once and only because the network went down,” Roemer said. “With an hour of time suddenly on our hands, we got to take a ride up to Logan Pass, but that’s all I got to see of the park.”
Roemer was promoted to deputy superintendent in Redwoods in June 2015, where he served until earlier this year, spearheading numerous projects such as working with the Yurok tribe to reintroduce endangered California condors to the park.
IT IS this spirit of cooperation that Roemer hopes to bring with him to his new position at Glacier National Park.
“It was great to work on that condor project and I can’t wait to work with the Blackfeet on the Iinnii Initiative to help bring bison back to the Glacier National Park area. I am eager to listen to them and find ways that we can help accelerate the process so this initiative can be a success,” Roemer said. “I am really looking forward to working with the Blackfeet Nation as well as the Salish and Kootenai, hearing from them and listening to them on how to make the parks more respectful of these being their ancestral lands. These were the lands they managed before anyone else was here. We want them to be able to tell their stories in their voices so visitors here can understand that important connection.”
Roemer says he is also looking forward to taking on the challenges of increased visitation in Glacier National Park and preserving the unique experiences the park has to offer.
“I think Covid helped the nation rediscover its love of the outdoors and our national parks. It’s an interesting time that is seeing us welcome many people who are new to national parks. People who may have never even set up a tent before. People who might not be as well versed in the ethics of the leave-no-trace philosophy. We are seeing the results of some of that right now and we want to protect our park from being loved too much,” he said. “I think it is pretty well established now that so many people love Glacier and come to visit that it becomes a challenge to be able to provide the kinds of experiences that National Park visitors value. Particularly experiences of solitude and open space.”
ONE WAY the park is mitigating increased visitation is the Going-to-the-Sun Road reservation system, which is currently in its second year of operation.
“We want people to be able to have those feelings of wonder and inspiration that come from not being surrounded by lots of other people. It’s a challenge for us and we are doing what we can to preserve that kind of experience for future generations,” Roemer said. “The reservation system is helping distribute the visitors throughout the park and allows them to experience something wonderful while also alleviating some of the overcrowding concerns. When I was younger, I would do vacations with as little planning as I could. I would have a rough outline of where I wanted to go, but had more of a serendipitous experience. That is not really much of an option anymore. You can still do it, but you have to be accepting of the risks you take by traveling that way.”
Roemer and his family will be moving into their new house in Columbia Falls soon and are excited about becoming part of the Flathead Valley community.
“Glacier Park is really a part of the identity of people who live in the Flathead Valley, and that is great to see. It’s great to know that when I am talking to someone about the park, they love it as much as I do,” Romer said.